Many public health organizations—including the American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic—recommend daily intake of nuts as part of an overall healthy diet. We're in full agreement with this recommendation for daily intake of nuts. Research findings in large-scale studies like the Adventist Health Study, the Iowa Women's Health Study, the Nurses' Health Study, and the Physician's Health Study all show that the risk of coronary heart disease decreases as the frequency of nut intake increases. Persons who consume nuts once per week have a lower risk than persons who consume nuts just once per month, and persons who consume nuts at least 5 times per week have an even lower risk. We think that's good reason for a recommendation of daily nut intake.
According to a health claim for nuts first established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2003, scientific evidence suggests that eating 1.5 ounces (42 grams) per day of most nuts (as part of an overall healthy diet) may be able to reduce risk of heart disease. We like this average recommended amount of 1.5 ounces (about 3 tablespoons). A tablespoon or two of nuts is plenty for making a real difference in the taste, texture, and nourishment of a vegetable dish or fruit treat!
Where we differ from the FDA, however, is in our definition of what counts as a nut, and whether seeds should be included alongside of nuts in this general health recommendation. The FDA only includes a very select list of nuts in its recommendation: almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts, and walnuts. However, from a science perspective, these seven nuts don't really have much in common. Only one of the nuts (hazelnuts) is a true nut in the technical sense. Almonds, pecans, pistachios and walnuts are technically called drupes (fleshy fruits that contain seeds), pine nuts are simple seeds (specifically, gymnosperm seeds), and peanuts are legume seeds falling into yet another category of seed (called angiosperm seeds).
Given such a mixed list, we think it makes sense to broaden any recommendation to include most nuts and seeds, including the 4 nuts and 4 seeds belonging to our WHFoods Nuts, Seeds & Oils food group: almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. Any combination of these nuts and seeds adding up to 3 tablespoons per day (1.5 ounces, or 42 grams) is a step we recommend for obtaining the special health benefits provided by nuts and seeds.
One factor that has been especially important in public health recommendations for nut intake has been the limited amount of saturated fat found in many nuts. When it first authorized a health claim for nuts in 2003, the FDA actually set a limit on the amount of saturated fat that a nut could contain and still qualify for a health claim. That level was 4 grams of saturated fat per 50 grams of nuts. As you can see below, all but one (pumpkin seeds) of the WHFoods nuts and seeds meet this FDA standard for saturated fat.
|WHFoods Nuts and Seeds||Saturated Fat Per 50 grams|
|Pumpkin seeds (raw)||4.3|
|Sesame seeds (raw)||3.5|
|Sunflower seeds (raw)||2.2|
Even though pumpkin seeds are about 7-8% higher in saturated fat than the FDA's maximum amount, we believe that their very good content of nutrients like manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus—as well as their good content of protein, iron and zinc—make them an equally good choice for your daily nut and seed intake, provided that you keep your overall saturated fat intake for the day at a healthy level. If you're eating between 1,800 -2,000 calories per day, approximately 14-15 grams of saturated fat would be a reasonable daily amount.
One important final note: all of our nutrient analyses in the recommendations above are based on raw nuts and seeds. We realize that many people prefer to consume these foods in roasted form, and we believe that roasting can be just fine provided that it's carried out at a low temperature (always under 170F, or about 76C), and that it's dry roasting (not involving the use of any additional oils). Also important if roasting nuts and seeds is avoidance of added salt.
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